This is the first in a series of posts about “engineering consent,” a form of brainwashing and thought control perfected in the 20th century. Its purpose is to allow the elites who control western democracies to maintain political power without resorting to brute force.
By Alex Carey (1995 University of New South Wales Press)
Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty is a collection of essays written by Australian psychologist Alex Carey prior to his death in 1988. The essays were posthumously edited and assembled into a book by Andrew Lohey. Carey’s book details the 100 year history of the deliberate manipulation of popular consciousness by the corporate elite.
According to Carey, the main purpose of corporate social engineering is to persuade the voting public to serve the interests of the privileged class, rather than their own working class needs. This type of propaganda relies heavily on emotionally-laden symbols and a black and white view of society in which people and issues are either good or evil. Owing to virtually unlimited corporate financing, it’s spectacularly effective. Conservative regimes that enacted reactionary social policy (in the US) between 1919-1929, 1946-1956, and 1976-2014 didn’t just happen – they were deliberately engineered by the business lobby and corporate propagandists.
Women and Blacks Win Vote
In the view of the US business elite, a dedicated program of social engineering became essential at the beginning of the 20th century when women and northern blacks acquired the right to vote. In 1880, only 10-15% of the US population was eligible to vote. By 1920, this percentage had increased to 40-50%. The corporate elite couldn’t take the risk that this large crop of new voters would elect candidates keen on regulating corporate activities that posed a threat to public health and welfare.
Edward Bernays, known as the father of public relations, played an instrumental role in advancing the art and science of corporate propaganda. During World War I, he assisted Woodrow Wilson, who ran as an antiwar president, in convincing a fiercely antiwar and isolationist American public to support US intervention in the war between Britain and Germany.
After World War I, Bernays worked for the National Association of Manufacturers and other corporate groups with a primary agenda of turning public opinion against unions, immigrants and the corporate regulation enacted by President Teddy Roosevelt between 1901 and 1912.
By combining a vast media campaign with concerted employee indoctrination, Bernays created a wave of anti-union and anti-immigrant hysteria. By convincing Americans that corporate regulation was akin to Bolshevism. In this way, he successfully ushered in the first (1919-1921) of three periods of corporate rule. While post-war Europe enjoyed a wave of radical liberalism resulting in the rise of democratic socialism, the US was caught in the grips of a reactionary agenda that would set the stage for the repressive Red Scare and Palmer Raids (in which politically active immigrants were rounded up and deported).
Labor Paralysis, Korea and Vietnam
The other two periods in which a corporate agenda dominated US domestic and foreign policy occurred between 1946-1950 and 1976-80. Between 1929 and 1946, the Great Depression and World War II dramatically curtailed the effectiveness of corporate propaganda. In the late forties, corporate interest groups roared back with a vengeance. The ideological agenda they broadcast on radio and in print media equated free enterprise with freedom and democracy, patriotism with social harmony and the New Deal with creeping socialism. Liberals who supported corporate regulation were portrayed as communist sympathizers. During this period, the Chamber of Commerce launched the first major publicity campaign warning that communists had infiltrated government, universities and other major institutions.
Thanks to these propaganda efforts, in Republicans took control of Congress for the first time since 1928. In 1947 they enacted the Taft Hartley Act (1947), virtually paralyzing American unions. By blanketing the media with their reactionary agenda, pro-corporate ideologues also laid the ground work for the second Red Scare, aka the McCarthy Era from 1950-1956.
Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House Committee on Unamerican Activities had an even more destructive effect on foreign policy than it did on civil liberties. In addition to pressuring Truman to pursue an unwinnable war in Korea, McCarthy also forced Eisenhower to reverse US policy on Vietnam and China. Under Truman, the US State Department had opposed the French return to Vietnam (i.e. they supported Vietnamese independence). They had also sought to mediate (in 1945) between Mao Tsai Tung and Chiang Kai Shek in the Chinese civil war.
After McCarthy succeeded in stripping the State Department of more than 500 personnel with Asian expertise, the ultraconservative, CIA-linked John Foster Dulles succeeded in throwing US support behind the incompetent and corrupt Chiang Kai Shek and transforming French opposition to Vietnamese independence into a battle to prevent world Communist domination.
The Rise of Pro-Corporate Neocons
The anti-Vietnam War, Nixon’s resignation and public anger over against CIA domestic spying led to a strong anti-business backlash during the late sixties and early seventies. Corporate ideologues fought back with the launch of “treetop” propaganda efforts. As opposed to grassroots media-based propaganda, treetop propaganda focuses on recruiting rich conservatives to fund conservative think tanks to promote conservative “economic education” and lobby Congress to defeat consumer protection and labor rights legislation.
The American Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) (neoconservative think tank founded in 1970), the Heritage Foundation (founded in 1973) and would be instrumental in promoting “economic” ideological beliefs that full employment and clean air and water initiatives are detrimental to the economy because they hurt business. These think tanks also hammered Congress and universities with the notion that the US would collapse under a socialist dictatorship unless corporate regulations were rolled back.
Their success in bombarding all sectors of society with these reactionary ideas would pave the way for Ronald Reagan’s election and the rollback of corporate regulation and social safety net programs that occurred during his administration.
During the early 1970s, these conservative think tanks began exporting these reactionary belief systems to British and Australian corporate interest groups. In Britain, American-inspired treetop and grassroots pro-corporate propaganda would lead to Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979.
Below the 1993 documentary based on Noam Chomsky’s book Manufacturing Consent. The title is based on a term coined by Bernays: “engineering consent.” Carey had studied with Chomsky at MIT.
Originally posted at Veterans Today